After the administrative frustrations experienced by Team 1 and the continuing logistical uncertainties that the TLDP is navigating, Team 2 faced our second post-Covid trip to TL with not a small amount of trepidation. Nevertheless, off they went to Dili, buoyed by an ocean of phone calls, emails, messages and video conferences via Whatsapp and Messenger.
The Australian contingent of Team 2 comprised Team Leader, Dr David Digges, Dr Henry Gilkes and Dr William Hariman. As is quickly becoming a trend for 2022, Day 1 was taken up by meetings.
First, the team met with Dr Sanjay Mathew, who heads the oral health program for Maluk Timor, another NGO with which the TLDP collaborates. There was a lively discussion about the issues facing dental care in TL.
This was followed by another meeting with the Big Bosses at the Carmelite HQ in Fatuhada. The aim was to discuss the program’s challenges and to agree upon future directions. However, the meeting also came with a lovely surprise for the team; Sr Inacia and Sr Santina were accompanied by one of the TLDP’s founders, our beloved Sr Filomena, who is now in charge of the running of Fatuhada. After so many years, they were thrilled to be reunited with our dynamic friend.
Administrative tasks complete, the team then collected Ana Tilman and Ana Martins, did the shopping, and headed to Maubara, where they had another joyful reunion – this time with Sr Fabiola, the former ‘Big Boss’ of the Carmelites in TL. She is now a member of their World Leadership Council, based in Spain. Anyone involved in our program over the years would remember her dynamic spirit and her supportive, can-do attitude, especially when it came to the TLDP.
By Day 2 – Sunday – the team was all together – the Timorese contingent comprised our full-time dental therapists, Nico Pires and Ana Tilman, as well as newbie, Ana Martins, who graduated as a dental therapist from Kupang last year. The team packed up and set off for Maliana near the West Timor border. They stopped for lunch in Balibo; a town that achieved notoriety after five Australian journalists were murdered by Indonesian troops during the Indonesian invasion in 1975.
On arrival in Maliana, the team was met by Noemia Pereira Noronha, aka Mia, the younger sister of our much-loved Isa. Like her sister, she has exceptional translating and organising skills and made the team’s lives substantially easier. For the 3 days the team spent in Maliana, they were accommodated in the Seminary – the food was good and excellent lighting for Dr. Henry’s nightly tutorials for the crew, which covered everything from how to give injections to dental emergencies.
The team worked out of Maliana hospital for 2 days and were extremely busy seeing the community. They happily shared some preventive dental knowledge with the hospital doctors and also provided much-needed clinical supervision and support for the newly graduated local Timorese dentists, Drs Nelia and Maria. They then spent a day working in the nearby village of Cailaco – they found it was faster to follow the riverbed than to use the roads – it still took them over 2 hours to get there!
On Thursday the team headed slowly over the mountains up to Bobonaro where they worked in the Sister’s Clinic over the next 3 days. There were some concerns about the possible lack of patients due to the visit landing squarely in school holidays. They needn’t have worried; there were plenty of patients and the team’s young crew thrived and developed well during these few days. As always, the sisters spoiled them with excellent food and lively company.
On Sunday, the team farewelled Mia in Maliana – she was needed back at her mother’s restaurant. She was such a great addition to the team – she was sorely missed during the seond week. Dr William also headed back to Dili to catch a flight to Sydney the next day. Feeling short-staffed, the rest of the team dropped the gear in Loes on the way back home to Maubara.
During the second week, the team spent the first 3 days in Loes where they worked in an outdoor village clinic in very hot conditions. Loes is located inland at sea-level, so it doesn’t seem to get any sea breezes and hasn’t got any of the advantages of elevation. They treated children from a local orphanage, as well as the general community, which included members of water police force, who we have never come across before.
Although Tuesday was a public holiday in TL (Independence Day), there was no rest for this Aussie-based team, who worked through to 4pm before taking a late lunch at the Lauhata Beach Resort. This proved to be serendipitous for the team because they then had the extraordinary privilege of meeting the President of Timor-Leste, Dr. Hose Ramos Horta! It was a great joy for both Ana’s not only to meet their President, but to also be allowed to have a photo with him. Dr Henry and Dr David took the opportunity to speak to him about the TLDP, and he expressed his thanks for our efforts and stressed the need for us to continue our program. He even suggested that if we continued having difficulties, he could make available space in the Presidential Palace!
The following 2 days were spent in the TLDP base clinic in Maubara in sweltering heat. The effects of the pandemic were very much evident with more patients than ever before, queuing for hours to be seen. The Sisters were thrilled to see Ana Martins working with the team. Ana grew up in the Carmelite sisters’ orphanage in Maubara, and so she occupies a special place in their hearts. The pandemonium at the clinic increased even more when the other children from the orphanage arrived for their checkups! The team’s highlight that week was dinner with the kids at the orphanage – despite having taken out some of the kids’ teeth that day, they were still greeted with smiles.
The last 2 days were spent in Railaco with the Jesuit mission, which functions like a well-oiled machine. After a spectacular drive up into the mountains, the rapidly tiring team were greeted with beers. The indefatigable Father Bong always knows how to make our job easier, and any team hosted by him can expect seamless support. The team was very happy to follow up Team 1’s trip, to continue working their way through the very large Covid backlog, before heading back to Maubara and then home.
This was a mammoth trip for Team 2, even by their own standards. It was longer than normal, and busier than normal, which in the heat is even more difficult physically and mentally. In total, Team 2 carried out 754 check-ups, extracted 528 teeth, placed 193 fillings, and did 240 preventive treatments. It was an enormous effort all round. Well done!